Monday, August 22, 2005

Media Companies Are Pirating YOUR Copyrights

Even as they complain about students downloading music and movies from the internet, record companies and film studios are pirating your copyrights--and Uncle Sam is helping them get away with it! Here's how:

* Extension of copyright terms. The U.S. Constitution says copyrights must expire after a limited time (Article 1, Section 8), whereupon the work becomes public domain. Then you, the pu­blic, are free to copy or download Moby Dick, write new Sherlock Holmes stories, or perform Shakespeare or Mozart. Public domain is your copyright.

However, copyright's "limited time" has been repeatedly ex­tended, often due to big media lobbying. The 1790 Copyright Act set copyright protection at 14 years, renewable for another 14. By 1909 copyrights lasted 28 years, renewable for another 28. In 1976 copyright was set for "the life of the author plus 50 years" or 75 years for corporate owners. In 1998 copyright was extended to "life of the author plus 70 years" or 95 years for corporate owners.

Jack Valenti claimed the recent extension was necessary to bring U.S. law into conformity with the longer terms of the inter­national Berne Convention. However, many Berne signatories also recognize Moral Rights, a doctrine that forbids buyers (such as record companies and studios) from altering an artist's work. Valenti always opposed U.S. adoption of Moral Rights, which might prevent studios and networks from changing directors' films and possibly even writers' scripts.

Curious, it being vital for the U.S. to adopt Berne's longer copyright terms but not its Moral Rights.

Artists should profit from their creations--but not 70 years into the grave. "Life plus 25" (60 years for corporate owners) is more reasonable. Anything longer doesn't benefit creators; it actually prevents their reworking old classics still under copy­right. Excessively long copyright terms only benefit authors' distant heirs and big media companies owning vast libraries. And long copyright terms pirate your public domain rights.

* Perversion of trademark law. Traditionally, trademarks identified the maker of a product. If there was no product, the trademark was void. But increasingly trademarks are the product, providing a potential loophole around copyright's limitations.

Copyrights and patents expire, but trademarks can last for­ever. Thus, studios have trademarked Mickey Mouse, James Bond, Star Trek, and other characters and titles, preparing for when Steamboat Willie and Casino Royale enter public domain. They may lose those films and books and TV shows, but they'll be damned if they lose the characters. Had Bram Stoker tried it, it's possi­ble that today anyone might publish Dracula, but only the Stoker estate could create new novels, comics, or films featuring Dracu­la.

It remains to be seen if trademark law will subvert the Con­stitution's requirement for limited copyright terms. If so, big media will have pirated your public domain rights.

* Erosion of Fair Use. The Fair Use doctrine, rooted in the First Amendment, lets you, the public, copy excerpts from pro­tected works for purposes of news, education, research, criti­cism, and commentary. It also permits parodies. It's a complex doctrine because the law only gives guidelines; you don't know if it's Fair Use until you're in court. Which means Fair Use is of­ten determined by who can afford a lawsuit.

In 1940 a New York federal district court said it was Fair Use for authors to excerpt song lyrics in fiction (Broadway Music v. F-R Publishing). It's a way for authors to comment on pop culture. But today it is industry practice to pay a license fee for even one line of poetry or lyric. "Copying poetry or lyrics is never Fair Use," one editor told me. Rather than fight big publishers' lawyers, authors instead surrendered their Fair Use rights.

Erosion of Fair Use is erosion of free speech. When Alice Randell wrote The Wind Done Gone, she was sued by the Margaret Mitchell estate. Had Randell been unable to afford a legal defense, her parody of Gone With the Wind told from the slaves' perspective would have been suppressed.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation ( documents various ways in which Fair Use is threatened by big media. And curtailing Fair Use pirates your rights.

Pirating movies and music is wrong (though not as harmful to many artists as industry accounting practices are). Apart from brief excerpts used for news, criticism, commentary, and so on, copyrighted works should not be taken without permission while the artist is alive and for some reasonable period thereafter. But it's hard to sympathize with big media companies who've suffered piracy while they and their lobbyists and lawyers are pirating your rights.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Libertarian Party Not Pro-Peace Enough

I received the below bit of info from the Libertarians For Peace Yahoo Group. It was written by a Jeff S. Many members of this group feel that the LP's Iraq Exit Strategy does not go far enough.

Anyway, I think the below item from Jeff S. contains some info that may be of interest to libertarians:

"A few weeks ago I talked in-person with one of the LNC at-large reps. Without saying who it was, I'll just say he is one of those thought to be 'practical' as opposed to 'ideological.' He was genuinely upset with Joe Seehusen over the IES matter, because of how the statement was released without LNC approval. He said the matter would be addressed at the upcoming meeting. When asked if he felt IES conflicted with the platform, he would only say he was angry about being put in the position of having to consider that question.

"I just looked at Sean Haugh's blog (Sean routinely publishes reports on LNC meetings), and no action on IES is mentioned. Maybe something will show up in his full _Liberty for All_ report, when that comes out.

"My acquaintance on the LNC seemed convinced this was something dreamt up and done by the staff, without even National Chair Michael Dixon being in on it. Maybe, since Seehusen is gone, those with issues against the staff feel sufficiently mollified; or maybe they no longer have an interesting enough target. I have no idea.

"Anyone not an LP member probably won't have seen the latest issue of LP News, which includes a blatantly one-sided and misleading account of IES -- an account disparaging the statement's critics without giving any detail of their arguments.

"LP News failed to report that the bylaws REQUIRE LNC APPROVAL on major policy statements. Instead, the little allusion made to the approval issue left the impression it was a matter for interpretation, and that it had only been raised on the blog by members 'and even some non-members,' not by LNC members or other big wheels.

"I could go on, for example about how a minor figure from was quoted as having a somewhat favorable view of IES, even though publisher Eric Garris -- as quoted on this list -- thinks IES is a disaster and talked to the staff himself about it.

"I was bothered when LP News reported LNC approval of a dues increase without thinking it relevant to mention it was done by secret ballot. I am bothered by LP News repeatedly giving space to George Squyres to push his proposed immigration plank, without allowing critics anything approaching equal space. (Personally, I hate the proposed plank for more reasons than are appropriate to go into here.)

"Back to IES, LP News is a shameless apologist for somebody: I suppose one could assume that, even after the flak raised by IES's release, the staff still has balls enough to voice controversial views all its own through the party newspaper. One _could_ assume that, but I'm not.

"The day after I read the latest LP News, I called LPHQ and discontinued my monthly pledge. I cited as reasons the unapproved release of IES (with secondary platform concerns), and the shameless use of LP News as an organ of propaganda.

"I also mentioned how certain 'hired guns' have been brought forward to supposedly show how IES aligns with the platform, and how these efforts can't be taken seriously. (Maybe some of those glib 'experts' should have a talk with National Chair Dixon, since even he -- with his long and varied LP experience, including having chaired the platform committee -- publicly acknowledged the discrepancy early on.)

"For its part, LP News only made nonspecific references to the pro-IES platform-related arguments, perhaps sensing that a more detailed look would expose those arguments to the ridicule they deserve.

"It's saddened me to realize how some within the party apparently are capable of arguing any side of an issue; I wonder if the only factor determining _which_ side is how doing so will enhance or diminish their power within the party.

"We've sometimes talked here about 'means justifies the ends' utilitarianism. The degree to which I've seen this in the LP over the last few years, even among people I have (or had) a certain respect for, has really taken a toll on my interest in the party.

"What a person _does_ cannot be separated from what they _are_. What is true for individuals can also be applied to political parties. The last LP News triumphantly announces (what it hopes will be) the party's repudiation of the Values of Being -- though of course the issue isn't framed that way.

"At bottom this represents a clash of worldviews, since political philosophy can't truly be separated from philosophy as a whole. The LP is well on the way to losing its soul."

Jeff S.

Jeff adds:

"Contrary to my previous observation, it now appears _some_ action resulting from IES was taken at the recent LNC meeting -- the reinstatement of a committee to oversee advertising and publications. Not enough, since there is no repudiation of the objectionable elements in IES, but it's a positive sign nevertheless.

"After reviewing the LP bylaws again, I should probably say they don't baldly state that all major policy statements must have LNC approval. However, I believe only someone with a pre-existing agenda could read them -- particularly Article 6, which deals with the LNC control of the party program -- and think it appropriate that a major statement such as IES be issued without LNC approval. An objective observer would assume this policy statement, one that will likely tower above all others for sometime to come, should have had prior or concurrent explicit LNC approval as to its basic content.

"It is also stated, in the fifth item of Article 6, that no program proposal (at least tacitly this should govern major policy statements) shall conflict with the LP Platform -- even with LNC approval.

"One could also make a case based on previous precedent, which I do not think has ever seen a statement of this magnitude-- let alone a controversial one -- released without LNC approval.

"Readers may be interested to know my source for the views of publisher Eric Garris. It is a reply Libs4peace list member Terry Parker received from him, along with Mr. Garris's permission to share his comments:"

The below is by Eric Garris of

"Dear Terry,

"It is worse than that. I called and talked to the new Communications Director, Shane Cory, about the plan. He brought up the Marshall Plan as a good example to emulate in Iraq, since it 'worked so well for Europe.' I mentioned that Nixon had a similar plan in 1971 in Vietnam, and Cory said that he would have been successful had it not been for the public interference (ie, the antiwar movement).

"He also said that this was 'just the beginning,' since the LP is perceived as way too radical and we needed to go after the Bush people. He said other stuff, but I started to go into shock and can't remember it all right now."